Celebrations With Blanchett, Bono, Baz And More; The Best Books On Oscar; Farewell To An Industry Giant & Academy Award Record Holder – Notes On The Season

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

The votes are in. The ballots are being counted. The clock is ticking toward Oscar Sunday (which also is the day the clock ticks ahead as daylight-saving time begins). This also means the party circuit is in full bloom, and if you wondered if anyone was still worried about Covid, as has been the case for the past two Oscar seasons due to the pandemic, well, think again. As evidence, the two celebrations I hit on Thursday night — one for the Australian Oscar nominees, the other for Irish nominees – were packed to the max, barely a mask in sight. And if anyone was worried, it seems they have decided to party hearty instead, at least until the hangover following this six-month awards season finally takes hold Monday morning.

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Australian Consul-General Los Angeles Ambassador Janet Duke, Ausfilm, Screen Australia and Australians in Film held an event celebrating Australian Oscar nominees in the penthouse of the Chateau Marmont. The photographers were going crazy as Tár‘s Best Actress nominee Cate Blanchett walked in to join other Aussie contenders from Elvis, including producer-director Baz Luhrmann; his wife, four-time Oscar winner and current three-time current nominee Catherine Martin; cinematographer and recent ASC winner Mandy Walker; producers Gail Berman, Schuyler Weiss and Patrick McCormick; and more. Spotted in the crowd of well wishers was iconic Australian director Philip Noyce as well.

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Mandy Walker and Baz Luhrmann
Mandy Walker and Baz Luhrmann

Lurhmann, in high spirits, told me he is realistic about his film’s chances, still hopeful for an Austin Butler win in a very competitive Best Actor category, but especially thrilled for his history-making cinematographer, Walker, who became the first woman to win at ASC, and is only the third to be nominated for an Oscar in the male-dominated category. “It has been 90 years of Oscars and no woman has ever won. I really am intensely hoping Mandy becomes the first,” said the Elvis director, who was mobbed at the reception. Walker, still on a high from last Sunday’s ASC triump, told me she is ready to win — or not to win. “It is going to be one of those two outcomes, I guess, ” she laughed.

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Producer Weiss was there with his family and young son, already in a tux. He reminisced about the whole experience with Elvis, which actually began in May in Cannes, where I first met him at the huge afterparty Warners threw. “It has been so great to meet other nominees on the circuit like [Everything Everywhere All at Once producer] Jonathan Wang, who is just so nice. If I can’t win, I have decided there are people who I don’t mind losing to,” he said indicating Wang — the heavy favorite — would be one of them.

I had hoped to run into and catch up with Blanchett, and did so literally while racing to catch my car as it came up to the valet — not realizing I ran smack into Lydia Tár herself just as she was getting into her limo. We literally were face to face, and I got a hug. “How lovely,” she laughed. And there she went off into the night. As I got into my car, I turned to Walker, also at the valet station at that moment and asked her, “Don’t you just love Hollywood?”

From left: Charlie Hunnam, J.J. Abrams, Sarah Polley, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Rhea Seehorn and Jessie Buckley at the Oscar Wilde Awards on Thursday (Getty Images)
From left: Charlie Hunnam, J.J. Abrams, Sarah Polley, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Rhea Seehorn and Jessie Buckley at the Oscar Wilde Awards on Thursday (Getty Images)

Walker and the others were all headed off to the Academy Museum for the AMPAS dinner honoring nominees. Meanwhile, I set out for Santa Monica to J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot offices for the annual Irish shindig and 17th annual Oscar Wilde Awards, which he hosts each year. Honorees were a trio of terrific actresses, The Banshees of Inisherin Supporting Actress nominee Kerry Condon, Women Talking’s Jessie Buckley and Eve Hewson (Bad Sisters), who also happens to be none other than Bono’s daughter, and her proud dad was right there in the multitudes of people jam-packed onto the roof to see the ceremony, along with her mom, Ali Hewson.

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Also honored was The Quiet Girl, which is the first Irish entry ever to be nominated for the Best International Film Oscar. All the acceptance speeches were great, including those of the presenters, who included Oscar-nominated Women Talking writer-director Sarah Polley for Buckley, Charlie Hunnam for Hewson and Rhea Seehorn for Condon. I loved Condon’s story about how her evolving career brought her to Los Angeles, where she now lives. “I first got here and checked into the only place I knew — and could afford — the hotel that was in the movie True Romance,” she said. She recounted that after getting an agent and some -level acting jobs, the next time she hit L.A. she was staying at the Ritz-Carlton.

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Eve Hewson
Eve Hewson

It was also great to run into Charlie Mackesy, author of the best-selling book and first-time Oscar-nominated director of Animated Short front-runner The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. He was deep in conversation with Bono, who I overheard wishing him well at the Oscars. The Academy Awards may be a competition with the media painting it in terms of winners and losers, but it is clear to me these nominees are just excited to be out there meeting one another and bonding over their mutual love of movies. Polley told me she got a beautiful note card from Everything Everywhere All at Once co-director Daniel Kwan expressing how much this whole season has meant to him in getting to spend time with new friends he has met on the awards road. She said he has been giving them out to many fellow nominees. Nice guy. Polley has just come from the Canadian nominees reception, where she ran into Best Actor hopeful Brendan Fraser, among others.

On a sadder note this week, but also in its own way Oscar-related, I attended the Tuesday afternoon memorial gathering at Hillcrest Country Club for the late great industry titan, Walter Mirisch — who, as the Academy’s Randy Haberkamp said in his touching tribute, was “truly a man of integrity.” Mirisch died last month at 101, leaving us with a lot of great movie memories including his Oscar-winning In The Heat of the Night, West Side Story, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Pink Panther, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! — you could go on and on. In fact, even at 101, he was still active with yet another Pink Panther project in development at MGM, a live action/animation hybrid.

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I was honored to have gotten to know him, even honor him, in his later years (we gave him our Lumiere Award at my KCET Cinema Series in 2015, and he joined me for a Q&A and screening of The Magnificent Seven then). Mirisch was a former President of the Academy and one of the few people ever to receive AMPAS’ key three honors: A Best Picture Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. In fact, it was the Academy that announced his death on February 25, and many Academy members, including Board members and even actors in Mirisch films like West Side Story’s Oscar-winning George Chakiris attended the memorial which was presided over by one of his sons, Larry Mirisch, an Academy member himself. The Academy turnout also included past AMPAS CEO Bruce Davis and present AMPAS CEO Bill Kramer, who took time out from a hectic schedule prepping for the Oscar show to be there. We will miss Walter Mirisch, and quite frankly I already miss the quality and variety of the movies he and the Mirisch Company championed, but his work will live on forever. I understand he will have a special spot in this Sunday’s In Memoriam segment at the Oscars.

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And on a related note, I mentioned running into Bruce Davis, who was Academy CEO for three decades, and now in his retirement has written a terrifically researched and accurate history of Oscar and the organization that hands those much prized statuettes out, The Academy and The Award: The Coming of Age of Oscar and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In fact, when I caught up with Davis at the Mirisch memorial he was excited that the New York Times finally had given his 2022 book a good review. It is definitely worth a read this weekend if you want to prepare to watch the Oscars. Particularly fascinating is the section on how Oscar got its name, a subject that for decades has produced all kinds of myths and falsehoods. Davis, almost in Columbo-like fashion, is the man who uncovered the truth, and in the unlikeliest of places. He also destroys myths about the creation of the Oscar statuette itself, and just who, if anyone, was the actual model for it. And no, it wasn’t some random bald naked guy.

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Another great new book, in a completely different way, is The New Yorker staff writer Michael Schulman’s Oscar Wars, described as a “history of Hollywood in gold, sweat, and tears.” Schulman’s angle, a smart one, is to chronicle the history of the Academy Awards by taking a deep dive into a specific year, chapter by chapter, going micro into events, cultural and otherwise, that also perhaps shaped Oscar at that time. This book also is brilliantly researched and comes up with unique facts and stories that to my knowledge have never really been told before, at least in this way.

And then , if pictures are your thing, and the glitz and glamour of the Oscars are what you crave, then you can do no better than Red Carpet Oscars. It’s a gorgeous new coffee table book, for lack of a better description, by Dijanna Mulhearn, with a foreword by Blanchett, that basically gives up the story of the Academy Awards through star-driven photos of arrivals, backstage and through fashions over the years. It uncovers rare photos and puts them all in one place that is, as Oscar books go this season, a true guilty pleasure to inhale. From Janet Gaynor at the first Oscars in 1929 to Kristen Stewart (among others) at the most recent in 2022, this treasure trove of memories is irresistible. A keynote letter is also in it by Giorgio Armani — who else? — as he explains how Oscar has been so important to him and other designers. It is a stunner.

My inbox has been full of the usual attempts by various groups and people and statisticians trying to cash in on all the interest surrounding Oscar week. Here are some tidbits:

Everything Everywhere All at Once is just one of the 10 Best Picture nominees experiencing pirated downloads with infected files, but it leads the pack as the most dangerous to watch, with a malicious extension that tries to steal victim’s passwords.

There has been a 223% spike in online readership about the Oscars this season.

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (Everett Collection)
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (Everett Collection)

Everything Everywhere All at Once leads in getting the most traditional and social media conversation surrounding it, followed by Top Gun: Maverick, The Banshees of Inisherin and Elvis.

Blanchett is the second most successful Hollywood star of all time in terms of awards, with 197 wins and 272 nominations for overall total of 469. Guess who is first? Meryl Streep, of course, with an overall total of 554. Where do they keep all this stuff?

The Ranker is busy, well, ranking everything from Best Oscar Hosts (Jimmy Kimmel is No. 16) to Most Memorable Oscar Moments (the Will Smith slap is only No. 20).

States with the most lead acting winners: California with 25, New York with 22, Pennsylvania has seven, and Illinois, New Jersey and Texas have six each. The UK beats ’em all with 34.

Best Picture nominees popularity by states: Everything Everywhere All at Once tops in 23, Top Gun: Maverick in 14, Elvis in nine. All Quiet on the Western Front managed only 2.

The 15 most “successful” Oscar losers list is led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield, Ralph Fiennes and Hugh Jackman, in that order.

Finally the luckiest dress color at the Oscars in terms of winners is black with 21, followed by white with 12, blue with 10, gold with seven and green with six.

Finally, I close with a quote from my favorite guilty-pleasure movie ever made about the Oscars and those dreamers whose only dream it is to claw their way to the top to win one. Good luck to all on Sunday night, and remember the words of Tony Bennett in his only film role as Hymie Kelly as he tells Stephen Boyd’s desperate Frankie Fane what this night is all about in 1966’s camp classic, The Oscar:

‘The Oscar’
‘The Oscar’

“You finally made it, Frankie! Oscar Night! And here you sit, on top of a glass mountain called ‘success.’ You’re one of the chosen five, and the whole town’s holding its breath to see who won it. It’s been quite a climb, hasn’t it, Frankie? Down at the bottom, scuffling for dimes in those smokers, all the way to the top. Magic Hollywood! Ever think about it? I do, friend Frankie, I do…”

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